Free Veggies?

The amount of waste in America is appalling. Not only on an individual level, where kids in school don’t think twice about scraping half of their lunch into the trash can, and composters are not widely prevalent, but on a business level, too.

Take produce, for example.

The produce in stores is perfect. A bit too perfect, if you ask me. I have a friend who works on an organic vegetable farm (not a teenager, FYI) and she tells me that the standard for “sell-able” produce is utterly absurd. She gave me and some other people tomatoes that they couldn’t sell, and they were perfectly succulent and edible– except they had a few black spots or a little bruise. Gasp.

When you wander through the grocery store or your natural foods market, all the produce tends to be pristine. But what happens to all “icky” stuff?

Answer: It’s thrown away.

If a bunch of parsley has one slimy strand, it’s thrown out. If the broccoli is beginning to flower, it’s thrown out. If the apple has a brown spot, it’s thrown out. Nevermind the rest of the vegetable/fruit, into the garbage it goes. Byebye. And I’d bet my quart of raspberries that most stores don’t have a compost!

Some groups has risen to the challenge of combatting this waste, by working with grocery stores and collecting the forgotten produce to fight hunger. We have one in our area, but I know that there wasn’t one in my little town I moved from! How my local natural market does it (with some of the best organic produce around!) is they take old and ailing root vegetables, peppers, onions, fruit, etc. and discount it. When that does not sell, I believe they give it to the group that collects produce for hunger.

However, the leafy greens (parsley, lettuce, kale, collards, etc.) isn’t given to this group or sold at a discounted price, due to it’s.. uh… wilting properties!

That’s where I come in :D. And please note: having rabbits gives you a great excuse for this next step.

After falling in love with this little natural market (and it’s produce… and the fact it is an 8 minutes bike ride from my house), and was a “regular” shopper there, I discovered what dumpster diving was. I was intrigued, but after a bit of boring city ordinance researching, found that most of my area has a code against it. So instead I approached the produce people at my market, and told I have rabbits and would they be willing to have me come in sometimes and pick up their discarded leafies?

I strap the box(es) to my bike and pedal home!

They said yes, and now I go in between 7:00-7:30 am three or four times a week to pick up a box or two of garbage destined produce. It’s a bit like a CSA box– I never know what we’ll get– sometimes some fruits sneaks in (I love it when that happens!), other days it’s only romaine lettuce, others a box of kale, and yet more times when my loot is comprised of random loose greens, a bag of carrots with a slimy one inside (why it was thrown out), and a broken fennel head (lol).

The thing to remember is that this stuff was destined for the trash, so something is going to be wrong with it!

You will have to cut bruises off of fruit, pick through the carrots, and sort through each bunch of greens for that wilty one that, if left, would spoil the rest. However, if you lower your standards a bit (such as being okay with spotted fruit, choppy carrots, and slightly discolored greens) the pile of truly inedible stuff will be strikingly small. It takes work, but if you are a DIY-er (do it yourself) you will feel a great sense of accomplishment for taking the initiative.

Okay, so now you have this produce. But what do you do with it? You can eat it right away, but given the nature of the mystery box, you may not have an immediate use for an item. Exercise your many storing options:

  • Dry parsley, carrots, onion, etc. to add to stews (or feed rabbits in the winter!)
  • Make applesauce with bruised apples
  • Dry fruit to eat as a snack or to construct your own trails mix (apples, grapes, peaches, nectarines, berries, and more)
  • Can bruised fruit (peaches, for example)
  • Freeze fruit for smoothies
  • Blanch and freeze collard greens, spinach, and broccoli, and reheat to add to a meal.
  • …and so on. The options are ENDLESS!

For the record, we do feed a remarkable amount of our spoils to the rabbits. They are our guise, after all, and I can’t lie  ;). But we utilize the stuff that is just too fresh or tasty to waste on the bunnies!

If you do take these suggestions, and ask your local produce employees to give you their castaway produce, I do think it is good to stay a steady costumer. I know my produce guys, and the other employees who are on their shift when I arrive (before the store opens) know I have hungry bunnies to feed. During normal business hours, I go in periodically to make small purchases, such as fruit or chocolate chips ( 😉 ).

I believe that that would be a concern for the grocers– how giving you the veggie scraps would affect their profit. Prove ’em wrong and be a good constumer, eve if it is only with small puchases.


Today’s Question:

Have you ever heard of dumpster diving?

Hopefully I don’t creep you out by talking about dumpster diving– it’s not that we have no money to purchase the things we need (we totally do) but from an environmental aspect, eating something that would be thrown away anyway is like brownie points for you an the earth. I am too shy and cowardly to do some true dumpster diving (it’s true!), but I hear that anything even slightly past it’s expiration sate is thrown out. And most of us know that packaged foods tend to still be edible, even after the stamped time (they don’t spontaneously combust, didn’t you know?). Nuts, juices, cookies, bars, and baked goods are thrown out of bakeries, too!

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7 Responses to Free Veggies?

  1. I’ve seen some documentaries on dumpster diving where people would basically not buy anything and just find all their food in dumpsters, and while I find it fascinating, I’m pretty sure I’d never be able to do it. I have a HUGE fear of food making me sick, so the slightest possibility of food poisoning would keep me far away. I’d have less of a problem picking up a case of bruised produce or expired cereals/cookies from a store, but I wouldn’t be able to take it out of the dumpster.

    • VEGirl says:

      Yeah, there is that! You would certainly have to be careful if you were a “freegan” as they call it, about being sure the food you would eat is safe (although I think this applies more to some foods than others– dairy and meat for example). for produce though, food poisoning isn’t too likely.

  2. I would go for some FREE slightly damaged veggies! If I was a spinster, I would dumpster dive, buIt I wouldn’t feel right serving salvaged veggies and fruits to my guests. I am cool with eating them though! I would just make sure I washed the produce REALLY well. 🙂 You are lucky to have a place that lets you have free veggies so close to your house!

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